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A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN                                                             9l
man's in a hurry it shows there's life in him, and it's
beating strong. Aren't I right, dearly beloved found-
ling?. .. Write us from the hospital. Remember the
address: Kalinin Region, Bologoye District, the future
village of Plavni, what? Future, I say. Don't be afraid,
it will reach us. Don't forget. The address is right!"
When the stretcher was lifted into the aircraft and
the pungent smell of aircraft fuel struck Alexei's nostrils
he felt another upsurge of joy. The celluloid hood was
drawn over his head. He did not see the people who had
come to see him off waving their hands; he did not see
the little old woman with the hooked nose, looking in
her grey kerchief like an angry raven, struggling against
fear and the wind raised by the propeller, push towards
Degtyarenko, who was already in the cockpit, and hand
him a packet with the rest of the chicken; he did not see
Grandad Mikhail fussing round the aircraft, scolding the
women and driving away the children; and how, when
the wind had torn his cap from his head and sent it
bowling over the ice, he stood bareheaded with his glisten-
ing bald patch and thin silvery locks, looking like St. Ni-
cholas in the simple village icons. He stood, waving his
hand to the departing aircraft, the only man among the
motley crowd of women.
Hopping off the icy surface of the lake, Degtyarenko
flew the plane over the heads of the crowd and cautiously,
with the runners almost touching the ice, he flew along
the lake under cover of its high, steep shore, and vanished
behind a wooded island. This time, the daredevil of the
wing who had received more than one dressing-down
from his superior for recklessness in the air, flew cautious-
ly; he did not fly, he crept, hugging the ground, follow-
ing the courses of small rivers and taking cover under the
shores of the lakes* Alexei saw nothing and heard
nothing. The familiar smell of petrol and lubrication, and
the joyous sensation of flying, caused him to lose
consciousness. He came to only at the airfield when the
stretcher was being lowered from the aircraft to transfer
him to an emergency Red Cross craft that had already
arrived from Moscow.